Demand for clean needles by intravenous drug users is way up in Newfoundland and Labrador, and outreach workers at the AIDS Committee of Newfoundland and Labrador say they're concerned the increase may signal a jump in intravenous drug use.
The committee's needle exchange program has seen a large increase in demand. In 2011, workers with the program gave out 173,000 clean needles. Already this year, they have given out 185,000 clean needles, and they have spent their entire annual budget for the needle exchange.
Gerard Yetman, executive director of the AIDS Committee of Newfoundland and Labrador, said more people in this province had been injecting OxyContin, but since the introduction of OxyNeo – a new version of the drug that was made to be more difficult to inject – intravenous drug users have been turning other drugs.
"There has been a dramatic increase in the use of heroin, which is replacing OxyContin," said Yetman.
Yetman said some drug users are also injecting cocaine, and the committee's needle exchange program is seeing younger users.
Drug use up amongst youth
Yetman added that drug use is spreading fast in high schools. He's worried that could lead to more intravenous drug use, and the spread of HIV/AIDS could follow. "Especially among our youth, that same fear [of HIV/AIDS]
that was there 10 years ago is not there today," noted Yetman.
Yetman said just over 200 people in this province are known to be infected with HIV/AIDS. He said others may be infected but haven't been tested.
Yetman said the group is working with the provincial government on a new strategy to get ahead of the new wave of intravenous drug users, and to spread awareness of the increasing danger of contracting HIV/AIDS.